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Bright Little Labs has launched a new series of resources aimed at teaching children to code, featuring a new character called Agent Asha.
Agent Asha: Mission Shark Bytes is the first in a trilogy of books aimed at teaching children science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills such as coding, logic sequencing, internet safety, and spotting fake news.
Sophie Deen, CEO of Bright Little Labs, said she created Agent Asha because she wanted to “normalise” what it means to be part of the tech sector.
“I created Agent Asha to ensure that everyone has access to, and is empowered to have, a voice in our increasingly digital world,” she said. “Over the last decade, coding has become a basic literacy, like reading and writing. It’s the number one sought-after skill in employees, and workers with coding skills get paid the highest wages. Yet not everyone is able to access these skills.”
Because of misconceptions about the STEM sector, is can be particularly difficult to encourage young women to consider STEM careers, with many wishing they had more encouragement from women already in the tech sector.
Many young women go on to regret not studying STEM, and a lack of accessible role models is often cited as a reason some young people don’t choose STEM careers, because they don’t see anyone like them to aspire towards.
Bright Little Labs claims that only 4% of children’s books feature a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) character, with Agent Asha acting as a role model for children reading the series so they can see someone who “represents the world they’re growing up in” actively engaging with tech.
The 11-year-old protagonist of the series spends the first book using her coding skills to investigate “evil tech giants” to discover who is trying to bring down the internet.
In 2014, the UK introduced a new computing curriculum, making it mandatory for children of certain ages to learn concepts such as coding and computational thinking skills.
Bright Little Labs’ Agent Asha resources are developed to coincide with the National Computing Curriculum key stages one and two, and as well as a hardback book, published by Walker Books, children are given materials such as an invitation to join the Children’s Spy Agency (CSA), a “secret” group providing children with on and offline materials to teach critical thinking skills in line with the school curriculum.
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No prior coding knowledge is needed to use the pack, which also includes a “spy starter kit”, six STEM-based activities, a wall map and access to the CSA app, available on Android and iOS.
Deen, a former lawyer who used to head up Code Club World and Code Club Pro, and worked alongside several organisations with the Department of Education to develop the computing curriculum introduced in 2014, wants to use materials produced by Bright Little Labs to encourage young people from all walks of life to consider a future in STEM.
“In my time in schools, I found that not every kid wants to be a coder (yet!), but almost every kid wants to be a spy,” she said. “I knew that parents felt alienated by the tech revolution, and that kids needed to ‘see it to be it’. So I created an immersive spy world starring 11-year-old Agent Asha Joshi – a tech whizz and secret agent for the Children’s Spy Agency.
“Kids follow Asha’s adventures in a book and activity pack, which teaches them how the internet works and how to sneak about. It’s a screen-free way for kids (and their parents) to understand the KS1 and KS2 computing curriculum.”
Previously, Bright Little Labs produced Detective Dot, a story featuring a nine-year-old detective who uses technology to help in her missions, also aimed at using a diverse range of characters to make technology more accessible to girls and minority groups.
Suitable for children aged between seven and 11, the Agent Asha pack, which costs £24.99, can be bought through the Bright Little Labs online shop.